VP Academic and referendum special election: Who should you vote for?

During the AMS general election a few weeks ago, all contenders for VP Academic and University Affairs (VPAUA) dropped out shortly after candidates were announced. Now the AMS is holding a special election to fill the seat.

According to AMS Archivist Sheldon Goldfarb, this year was the first time an executive position didn't have any candidates. But if those circumstances weren’t strange enough, this election will also be the first to take place entirely online — without any in-person Meet n’ Greets or debate forums — due to the COVID-19 outbreak that has halted regular operation of the AMS Nest and in-person classes across campus.

But given this outbreak, as students scramble to adapt amid classes moving online, drastic social distancing measures and border shutdowns, we understand if anticipating your next VPAUA has not exactly been at the top of your mind.

Luckily, The Ubyssey interviewed every candidate and scoured their online platforms to offer you some guidance. Admittedly, without any debates or other in-person forums, we had less information to consider than we normally do, but we hope this analysis helps you make an informed decision.

Voting for the special election will begin Monday, March 23 at 9 a.m. and end Friday, March 27 at 7 p.m.

VP Academic and University Affairs (VPAUA)

Reed Garvin

Courtesy Reed Garvin

Reed Garvin wants to advocate for increased mental health resources, better communication and financial transparency from the AMS and food security on campus. As the current associate VP Finance, many of Garvin’s goals are finance-focused, and some of his ideas would perhaps be better accomplished under the VP Finance portfolio or within the Senate. For someone who claims AMS experience as his biggest advantage, Garvin focused surprisingly little on the policies that are important to understand as VPAUA. He does seem to have a good working relationship with at least one current executive, advocacy experience and a desire to make a difference, making him a safe choice overall.

Zoe McDaniel

Courtesy Zoe McDaniel

A newcomer to the AMS and the youngest candidate in the race, Zoe McDaniel is this year’s outsider candidate, but she’s not inexperienced. The second-year developed an understanding of policy creation and consultation through her work with the Students Commission of Canada and the United Nations. She has concrete proposals for how to improve mental health and sexual violence support and seems passionate and competent. Her platform is specific, focused and well-thought-out. McDaniel seems to understand the role of VPAUA thoroughly and is prepared to hit the ground running if voters are willing to overlook her relative lack of UBC governance experience.

Harresh Thayakaanthan

Courtesy Harresh Thayakaanthan

Harresh Thayakaanthan is not new to AMS Elections this year — he ran for president in the general election and lost to Cole Evans. But he’s back in this special election, running for the executive position that many of his presidential platform points fell under. Thayakaanthan seems devoted to being involved in the AMS, but even under platform points he stresses the most like affordability, he doesn’t have many specific, innovative changes or policy proposals. His presidential run showed similar issues. That said, Thayakaanthan’s background in residence life and his commitment to affordability is commendable.

Georgia Yee

Courtesy Georgia Yee

Georgia Yee has policy knowledge with concrete plans and experience from Residence Life to back it up. She has ambitious plans for improved Indigenous consultation, learning material accessibility and university affordability, but her platform is so broad that it raises the question of whether she’s bitten off more than she can chew. Still, the live streams she's held in lieu of debate appearances show that she cares about students’ academic needs. Yee’s goals are extensive, but she’s the candidate for someone who values approachability and big ideas.

Georgia Yee contributed an article to The Ubyssey’s news section in January 2020.

Referendum

AMS Bylaw Changes

File Alex Vanderput

This bill is the gift that keeps on giving — or refuses to die, depending on how you look at it. It first surfaced in last year’s AMS Elections and didn’t pass because it failed to meet quorum. So the AMS tried again in 2020 with slight alterations — and got the same result. Turns out students are reluctant to vote on a referendum question that packages several changes — some inconsequential, some obscure, one seemingly quite drastic — into a single omnibus. But third time’s the charm, apparently. At a March 11 Council Meeting, Governance Committee Chair Katherine Westerlund blamed the AMS for failing to promote the bill in their “lacklustre” Vote Yes Campaign and motioned to once again tack it on to the VPAUA special election.

As for whether you should vote for the bill this time around, The Ubyssey’s stance hasn’t changed. Ultimately, while the packaging is confusing, the individual amendments are relatively simple. Most are minor pieces of housekeeping: fixing typos and modernizing code to adapt to other changes in the society. But, predictably, one of the 10 amendments remains controversial: records policy. The change would allow Council to classify records that could harm the AMS if known by the public — but its wording leaves a lot of room for interpretation. AMS insiders like Westerlund are adamant that the policy is necessary because it would allow the society to classify legal and financial documents, as well as sensitive personal information concerning individual students. AMS President Chris Hakim assured that Council would develop a policy that would outline a fair and consistent procedure for classifying such documents, but it’d be nice to have that procedure ironed out before voting.

This article was updated to clarify the VPAUA election is a special election rather than a by-election.